5 Tips to Combat Text Neck and iPhone Elbow

By Jeremy Del Nero on 11 December 2019
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As I write this, I feel a dull pain in my neck, even though I am perfectly positioned in my ergonomic desk chair with my MacBook Pro on the desk at the recommended height.  It isn’t the chair, nor is it the Mac. Rather, it’s stemming from the time I spend hunched over my phone, looking at news, social media, and just keeping tabs on the world.

While FBT Editorial Director Jonathan Spira has touched, in his research, upon some health issues regarding the rather daunting problem of Information Overload, my goal here is more prosaic.  Using your smartphone, be it Android or iPhone, can cause neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain, dry eyes, and more.

Here follow five tips for avoiding Text Neck and iPhone Elbow as they have come to be called as well as several other modern age disorders.

1.)       Text Neck

Granted, this isn’t a medical term but it describes the pain one is susceptible to after holding a phone at what one’s neck would consider to be an odd angle.  While neck muscles in are generally strong, they were not intended to bear the additional strain that comes from looking down at your smartphone at a 60° angle with your chin almost in contact with your chest.  That 60° angle correlates to approximately 60 pounds of force or 266 Newtons.

To avoid the headaches, neck pain, and shoulder pain, as well as numbness and/or tingling in one’s fingers, simply keep the phone’s display at eye level so you don’t have to tilt your head.

2.)       Telephone Neck

If you have ever wondered whether you look ridiculous pinching the phone between your ear and shoulder, the answer is not only yes you do, but also stop doing that.

The practice goes back to older corded phones with large handsets although even cradling such older devices could cause pain, which is why telephone accessory companies came up with the telephone shoulder rest, an almost equally large and somewhat squishy piece of plastic that allowed a phone to rest comfortable on one’s shoulder.

The solution to Telephone Neck is simple: use headphones or earbuds.

Most smartphones come with earbuds and wireless headphones and earbuds are all the rage, available from companies that include Apple and Jabra.

If you must cradle the phone on your shoulder, don’t do it for long periods of time and do shoulder rolls and stretches to counter some of the effects.

3.)       Numb Thumb

It’s rather easy to give oneself tendinosis in one’s thumb.  Indeed, it’s a thoroughly modern condition that our forefathers who used dial phones knew little about.  It comes about as the tendons around the thumb become inflamed as a result of a repetitive strain injury, namely tapping texts and e-mail messages on a piece of glass.

Acupuncture can reverse some of the symptoms but ignoring the condition can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.  The best way to combat the problem is to stop using one’s thumb.  Fortunately, modern technology makes laptops with keyboards and Bluetooth keyboards for smartphones available for this very purpose.

4.)       iPhone Elbow

If you don’t use earbuds or you tend to text with your elbow bent for long periods, you are a likely candidate for cubital tunnel syndrome. This is where the ulnar nerve that runs from your neck along the elbow to your hand gets compressed.

The solution is similar to treatment for Phone Neck and Numb Thumb.  Earbuds tend to do the trick nicely.

5.)       Dry Eye

Smartphone users can unwittingly stare at their devices for extended periods and this leads the user to blink less frequently than normal.  Each time we blink, our eyelids spread a thin film of basal tears across the surface of the eyes, keeping them hydrated.

Staring at a screen causes this process to happen less frequently and results in dryness that can progress to stinging, burning, and redness of the eyes.

Treatment is simple: remember to blink more frequently if spending much time staring at a screen; look away frequently and take breaks. Try artificial tears (they come as eye drops) but consult an ophthalmologist if the problem persists.

The American Optometric Association suggests taking a 20-second break to look at something 20’ (6 m) away every 20 minutes or so, to counter the problem.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)



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